Indian Crafts, Culture And Couture


“The streets filled with the aroma of kebabs, those of Uttar Pradesh boast of their
intricate ‘chikankari’, while the land of sarson da saag, Punj“ab, is popular for its delicate ‘phulkari’. The weaves and colours of Indian fashion are a testimony of the nation’s rich cultural heritage.”


Indian weaves, knits and prints not only reflect our rich heritage of fabric design and fashion but also have an underlying aesthetic appeal that is magnetic. From India’s rich cotton and muslin heritage in the past to the current demand of Indian weaves and prints globally — the fashion quotient of Indian ethnics has always remained high. The behemoths of Indian fashion, the designers of Indian couture, like Sabyasachi and Anita Dongre have devoted most of their collections to promoting and imbibing local Indian arts without fail. Also spotted many times on the international red carpets, the Indian couture has been given all the necessary impetus with a neoteric twist from the Indian designers. Local Indian art forms are truly global now.
Owing to the regional diversity of the subcontinent, the local artworks also vary within kilometres like the languages and cultures in India. The streets filled with the aroma of kebabs, those of Uttar Pradesh boast of their intricate chikankari, while the land of sarson da saag, Punjab, is popular for its delicate phulkari. The weaves and colours of Indian fashion are a testimony to the nation’s rich cultural heritage.
Since the post-Vedic era, the most ubiquitous choice of fabrics have included silk, cotton, jute, wool, muslin and linen; dyeing of the clothes formed the most extensive fashion. From radical Rajputana rulers and majestic Marathas to mighty Mughals — the Indian kings and queens from the past left no stone unturned in getting their might reflected in their attires. They resorted to intricate craftsmanship and finesse in fabrics to reflect their regality. This lead to a boom in the development of local Indian art forms in dressmaking and fabric creation. The current emissaries of Indian fashion are the designers like Rahul Mishra and Manish Arora who have introduced the local thread works and karigari in their international runway shows.
One of the most sought after labels in India and abroad, Sabyasachi, has been able to promote Indian local arts in fashion in its full bloom. The label’s designer, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, believes in Indian couture and thrives by promoting the indigenous art forms of dressmaking in India. “The country is changing so rapidly, and there’s such a wealth of craft and design here that has never been used to its potential. Fifty years from now, if all these crafts die out because there is no demand and supply for them, the next generation will have nothing to fall back upon and we will only see it at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum — which is sad. It is vital for us to connect better with our audience to create demand for karigars so that they have a sustainable living. And finally, there’s a big copy market, so through them, craftsmen are getting good work which is wonderful!” he said in an interview with an Indian fashion news portal.
Rahul Mishra is another proponent of Indian crafts in the international fashion scenario. Mishra has been a part of several projects that have empowered the local handicrafts and fashion handiworks of India. Named Best Womenswear Designer by the Cotton Council in 2012, some of his most exquisite hand-crafted designs were acquired by The V&A Museum, London for the prestigious Design Exhibition. It was in 2014 when he captured the global realms. He bagged the coveted International Woolmark Prize. With Spring Summer Collection 2015 at Paris Fashion Week (PFW), he has been amalgamating local Indian weaves and fabrics in the Indo-Western outfits for one of the world’s most illustrious fashion shows, that is, PFW. His latest runway at the PFW featured dainty aari work in exquisite couture pieces. The intricacy of the ready-to-wear items was such that some of them required more than 3,400 hours of handwork.
Intricate, fine and beautiful — aari is the thread work from the times of the Mughals. This handwork requires utmost attention and a lot of time investment from the artisan. Aari work involves the implementation of a galore of beads and needles. The varieties linked with this artwork include Salma, Gota, Nakshi, Dabka and Aara that require skillful mastery over intricate handwork in putting together a piece of clothing. Aari work is generally associated with floral motifs as well. Not to forget that even katori, sitara and tikena are some of the other elements that are used in this embroidery form. All of them help in creating more intrinsic and innovative designs.
If you want to experience the most unique rendezvous of Indian and western classical culture in clothing, NORBLACK NORWHITE is the label for you. Their designers consider themselves storytellers rather than dressmakers. Their craft of consolidating Indian local handicrafts with western ‘street-inspired’ clothing is sublime. The label’s recent collaboration with FILA is the testimony. The label takes pride in designing clothes out of traditional ikat weave and is obsessed with the traditional tie-dye imprints on their pieces. Their website mentions the families, artisans and promoters closely associated with the traditional fabric/printing industries in rural India.
Rajasthan and Gujarat are intimately associated with colourful textiles and traditional processes of creating an apparel. One such ypopular method of dyeing the clothes is the tie-dye process. Also known as Bandhani, this style of dyeing the clothes involves tying the fabric and soaking it in dye-infused warm water to render coloured output. Tie-dye is also linked with American heritage, as it was popularised around mid-1960s to associate with the ‘hippie movement’.
Other labels that have progressively worked towards Indian crafts, culture and couture include Raw Mango, Anita Dongre, Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, and Tarun Tahiliani among various others. “Created with karigars across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Varanasi, Raw Mango’s designs innovate upon century-old skills, in pursuit of defining a new aesthetic vocabulary,” Raw Mango defines its philosophy. “Raw Mango draws from the colours, philosophies and cultures of India to create a unique voice, questioning place and perspective through design.”
Banarasi silk is a fabric which is a vintage favourite of labels like Raw Mango. Although our Vedas do mention the existence of zari work synonymous with Banarasi silk, the fine craftsmanship is believed to have been brought to India by the Mughals. The art bloomed in the Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, other forms of thread work like chikankari and phulkari have been used by ace Indian designers to preserve the local handicrafts and also accentuate the aesthetics of Indian attires.